It’s difficult not to wonder what might have been for Bendigo’s Jack Trickey if it wasn’t for a slice of bad luck in the individual road cycling race at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
Leading into the race, Trickey had been in superb form and was the Australian champion – a title he won on the same undulating Broadmeadows course he was set to ride at the Olympics.
It had been a spectacular rise for the then 21-year-old, who just a year earlier decided to switch his focus from track cycling to road racing in order to compete at the Melbourne Games.
A big crowd assembled at Broadmeadows Train Station to cheer on the Olympic competitors at the start of the road race circuit and Trickey began the event well.
At the 105km mark of the 187km race he was the leading Australian but, out of nowhere, disaster struck.
In 1956 riders were given feedbags as they raced and, after missing out the first time, Trickey wasn’t about to go empty-handed as he came past the pits again.
“That was the problem, why I bit the dust – a feedbag. I missed out on the one lap and on the second lap this bloke that was handing it to me held it right in front of my face and it went around the handles and into the front wheel,” Trickey recalled from his home in Huntly.
The feedbag brought him off his bike and he was run over by a rider who had been close behind.
As was the norm at the time, Trickey wasn’t wearing a helmet or any protective gear and he was left dazed, with a bloody mouth and other injuries which ended his race.
“I was the leading Australian at the time. So that was all the 12 months or more of work, laying out on the road in a heap of dust,” Trickey said.
While Trickey’s campaign came to a disappointing end, he has many fond Olympic memories, such as the opening ceremony at the MCG and being invited to have lunch at the Olympic Village with Prince Philip, who was “a hell of a nice bloke to talk to”.
Following the Games, Trickey had a brief stint as a professional but his elite cycling career soon came to an end due to family and work commitments.
“There wasn’t a lot of money to turn professional in the real world. There wouldn’t have been enough money around in those days to turn a professional and not work,” he said.
“Plus I wasn’t very interested, I’d done what I wanted to do by getting into the Olympics.”
Trickey had already made many sacrifices in what he calls cycling’s last “true amateur” era when riders weren’t allowed to earn any money from the sport.
An ordnance worker in 1956, Trickey had to take two days a week of unpaid leave to train on the roads around central Victoria, which made it difficult for him and his newlywed Jean to make ends meet.
“I was lucky because a lot of my mates I had working with me used to take a collection and would knock on the door at home and they’d be there with a bit of money to help things along a bit,” he said.
After his retirement from cycling Trickey stayed off his bike until he was in his 40s and his health began to suffer.
“I had about 20 years in the wilderness and all I did was get big – about 100kg,” he said.
“I went to my naturopath and he checked me out and he said ‘your life span could be measured in minutes’. I said ‘oh hell’. So I thought I better start doing something.
“I got out an old mountain bike and rode about 300m and I was totally stuffed.
“But I kept going, I had to keep doing something otherwise it was all over.”
Today Trickey still rides his new racing bike “Black Betty” with the Central Victorian Veterans Cycling Club across Victoria and he regularly watches races in Bendigo.
He had a health concern four years ago when he had his aorta valve replaced with a cow’s.
The surgery went well and he is now in great shape.
“I went to the doctor a while back and he said ‘you’ve got the heart and lungs of a 20-year-old’, but he said ‘it’s a pity about the 77-year-old body, though’,” Trickey said.
Trickey, who had five children with Jean, maintains a strong interest in cycling and the Olympics and he is looking forward to Bendigo’s Glenn O’Shea riding in London.
“The boy’s good, I’m glad that he’s made it,” Trickey said.
“He’s won the madison and put up some really good performances.”
But he wasn’t happy with this year’s green and white Olympic uniform the Australian team will wear for the opening ceremony next weekend.
“I was a bit disappointed in the look of the Olympic team’s clothing this year actually – it’s ordinary,” he said.
Although it’s a bit worse for wear these days, Trickey still has his 1956 Olympic bike and other assorted memorabilia at home and it is obvious he has reflected on his achievements more often as the years have passed.
“At the time I didn’t think much of it myself, I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it,” he said.
“But I still think I’m the only one to win an Australian road title from Bendigo.”